I’ve been coloring my hair for 20 years. Twenty years. I went prematurely gray, to say the least—I got my first gray hair at age 12! So I know all about hair color and highlights and root touch ups and the like. And frankly, I get tired of it sometimes. Really tired.
Still, at 47, I just don’t feel like I’m ready to go gray. As confirmed recently by my stylist, my hair is about 70 percent gray—white, really. So letting my hair go gray would mean a major change in my appearance, not to mention an arduous, unattractive growing-out period. But one of these days, I’m going to have to let it all go gray, right? My husband says never. But I always tell myself that maybe around 60, I’ll need to let the gray take over and stop trying to fake it. I don’t want to be one of those “women of a certain age” who walk around with an unconvincing head of jet black hair, or who combs in her eggplant-colored Fanci-Full after each wash and hopes she doesn’t sweat or get caught out in a rain shower. So I wonder, when is the right time to go gray?
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Not surprisingly, there’s no definitive answer. Some women can never imagine themselves going gray, while others would never set foot near a bottle of hair dye (though I imagine the latter didn’t get their first gray hair at 12!). And I’m guessing that the majority, like me, know that the day is coming when they’ll have to let nature take its course.
Most women who go from coloring their hair to wearing it gray have to make a choice during the difficult growing-out phase. They can cut their hair as short as possible to allow for minimal time for the gray to come in, or they can keep it long and look like a skunk, with an ever-widening white streak in the middle of their head. The third option is to spend a lot of time and money at the hair salon. To let longer hair go gray in the least-noticeable manner, it has to be lightened as much as possible with highlights and lowlights. With every trip to the salon, the stylist takes it closer to the color that is growing from your roots. But since most women’s hair only grows about 6 inches a year, women with long hair—like me—are going to have to bite the bullet and go for a shorter cut—probably chin length at the longest.
And even those well-known gray-haired beauties—I’m thinking Helen Mirren, Kristen McMenamy (the supermodel who famous let her locks go white) and Carmen dell’ Orefice—are still besties with their stylists. They have their dark or uneven locks lightened, whitened and evened out. So much for natural beauty!
There are a lot of good reasons to let your hair go gray. No one can keep coloring forever and expect to fool the masses. And after a certain age, colored hair on a wrinkled face, no matter how beautiful the face, just looks garish. Hair color contains harsh chemicals, and decades of these being absorbed into your skin can’t be good for anyone. And finally, maybe by going gray, we embrace who we really are and stop covering up and apologizing for the aging process.
Still, I say color your hair if it makes you feel good to do so. But if you’re of a certain age—and I include myself in that category—keep in mind that even your closest friends might not tell you that your hair color looks ridiculously fake. So remember, look around, and look at your peers. And when you’re out shopping and you see that woman with the monolithic auburn hair, crow’s feet and turkey-skin neck? Maybe you think to yourself, “Poor thing, she’d look so much better if she just went gray.” Be sure that’s not your own reflection you caught in the shop window!
Going gray is all about aging gracefully, and that’s something we all aspire too, right? I just hope that when the time comes for me to go gray, I’ll know it. Or that I’ll have a painfully honest girlfriend tell me to put down the bottle of hair dye and so we can go hit senior discount day at TJMaxx.